Middle GA Bear Hunters Take 10 Bears
WRD looks at a possible expansion of four-county season.
John Trussell | December 23, 2022
The temperature was a crisp 38 degrees, the wind was still, and the skies were partly cloudy as the sun rose across middle Georgia for the annual one-day bear hunt in Houston, Twiggs, Bibb and Bleckley counties. The good weather meant the bears should be moving, and Sam Land, of Swainsboro, was patiently sitting in his deer stand in Twiggs County, looking down the partially cleared rows of pine trees on the 1,700 acres Double 00 Hunting Club. After a short wait, he saw a 194-lb. bear slipping through the pines, and when it crossed an opening, he dropped it with his 6.5 Creedmoor rifle.
All bears killed on this special hunt must be taken to the Oaky Woods WMA check station to be checked in. WRD Biologist Bobby Bond pulled a tooth to age the bear, while UGA grad student Ben Carr pulled out a plug of hair with pliers so DNA would be retrieved. Earlier research has shown that Middle Georgia bears do not breed with bears from north or south Georgia, so this small population has become genetically isolated over time due to loss of habitat.
Also at the check station was Rosmarie Kelly, a Georgia Public Health entomologist, who was checking the bears for ticks. Bears do carry ticks, but not in large numbers. She had to search to find any ticks, and all were blacklegged ticks, which do have the possibility of carrying lyme disease. Overall, deer carry a lot more ticks than bears, and all warm-blooded animals have the potential to carry and spread ticks, she says.
The one-day bear hunt is a private lands hunt, with Oaky Woods and Ocmulgee WMAs closed to bear hunting. A total of 10 bears were killed during the hunt, which offers middle Georgia hunters a unique opportunity to harvest a bear without a lot of travel time. Jesse Winn shot his 153-lb. female bear on the Oaky Woods Family Hunting Club in Houston County. Jesse was sitting in his stand about 5:15 p.m. when the bear wandered into an overgrown watermelon patch which had been recently planted in pines. He dropped the bear with his 7mm magnum rifle. Interestingly, Jesse had some trail-cam photos of a bear on his club that had learned to climb a tree to get to a feeder that was suspended on a steel cable. He named it “circus bear.” It would climb the tree and use its arm and claws to work out on the wire to the feeder and attack it. He says bears can be pretty smart.
On the Bear Creek Hunting Club in Twiggs County, Will Bryson, of Atlanta, was in his box stand, overlooking several intersecting game trails when a 122-lb. bear walked into his gun range. He leveled it with his 6.5 Creedmoor rifle, and he had his first bear. Will is an economics major at UGA and was hunting with his dad Chris and friend John Bridges, who was a guest at the club and tagged a 145-lb. female bear.
Air rifles can be deadly killers of bear, deer and other big game. Just ask Donald Wainwright, of Florida. He dropped a 122-lb. male bear on a 600-acre hunting club near the Houston County landfill. He used an Air Force brand air rifle loaded with a 345-grain lead slug.
Todd Sherman, of Marietta, was hunting on the Promised Land Hunting Club in Twiggs County when the fickle hand of fate smiled on him. He was hunting his deer stand, overlooking a food plot when an 87-lb. male bear walked out, and he nailed it with his .270 Weatherby Magnum Rifle.
Another Twiggs County bear fell to Rodney Tischer, of Kathleen. As he walked to his elevated deer stand overlooking a green food plot, he thought he saw a bear grazing in the field. He got into the stand and sure enough, he put his rifle scope on the black object, confirmed it was a legal bear, over 75 pounds, and pulled the trigger on his .30-06 rifle. He was hunting with his son, Gauge, and his good friend, Hudson Warden. At the check station, the bear’s weight was confirmed at 144 pounds.
James Germundsen, of Perry, was hunting a powerline clearing when a large bear crossed from the heavy woods headed toward a pecan orchard. He dropped the 175-lb. male bear with his .308 rifle.
Jason Ponegalek, of Macon, proved that staying positive and never giving up can have good results. He sat in a deer stand in Twiggs County all morning, did not see anything and thought it was going to be a fruitless day when he started to walk around and found a woods trail with a fairly long view. He decided to just watch the trail for a while, and at about 5:30, a bear walked out, and he drilled it with a bullet from his .308 rifle. He says he was at the right place at the right time!
One last bear was killed by Jim Daucette, of Melbourne, Fla. It was a big female that weighed 251 pounds and was taken in Houston County.
One item that Georgia WRD will be discussing in the January public meetings regarding the 2023-25 hunting regulations is a possible expansion of the one-day bear season to a two-day season, if the day one kill is not excessive. More on those meetings and how to comment is at GON.com/news/wrd-seekspublic-comment-for-2023-25-hunt-regulations.
The decision on whether to expand this one-day hunt is complicated. The question is whether or not a small bear population can stand the hunting pressure and the loss of breeding females? WRD Biologist Bobby Bond says the middle Georgia bear population is still around 300 bears, but a firm number is very difficult to scientifically determine. It is probably the smallest bear population in the USA that is hunted. UGA bear researcher Ben Carr is presently studying the movements of five newly tagged bears, and hopefully his findings, coming out in 2025, can help shed more light on the middle Georgia bear population.
Bear researcher Mike Hooker determined that the middle Georgia population could only lose 11 females from all causes of loss (hunting, road-kill, poaching, etc.,) without severe potential harm to the overall population. With recent road-kills running into the high teens most years and combined with hunting losses, the number of breeding female losses already is at, or may exceed the 11 allowed kills of female bears. However, this year, road-kills were lower than average, with only six bear losses reported as road-kill.
Looking back to 2021, bear road-kill losses were 19 and hunting losses were six, for a total of 25. The middle Georgia bear population faces challenges in the future with the planned expansion of Highway 96 from two to four lanes in Houston and Twiggs counties. This could increase road-kill, even though it is hoped that a fence and underground tunnels might reduce road-kills.
Another issue is that about 8% of the middle Georgia male bear population may have a reproductive issue where the testicles fail to descend, possibly rendering them sterile, but more research needs to be done on this problem. There has been some discussion about capturing other male bears from the north or south Georgia populations and releasing them in middle Georgia, but to date no action has yet been taken.
Whatever the outcome of the public hearings on this increased hunting opportunity of middle Georgia bears, I am confident that the Georgia WRD will base its findings on sound management practices that insure the long-term viability of the central Georgia bear population.
It takes a lot of manpower to pull off the middle Georgia bear hunt, so in addition to the DNR personnel mentioned in this story, let’s take our hats off to Ocmulgee WMA Area Manger Tommy Shover, Oaky Woods WMA Area Manager Nathan Crowe, Law Enforcement Rangers David Fisher and Jason Bennett, who worked this hunt. Congratulations to all the successful bear hunters!
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